The “#MeToo” movement has spread through news feeds like wildfire, and it has created a buzz in the media. If you’re not familiar, the movement went viral in October of 2017. The most common use of the hashtag has been as a platform for public expression of sharing past experience(s) ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault, in some way, shape, or form.
The specific details of this range of experiences have been put under the microscope in the media. There is a lot to unpack to try to gain a better understanding of the range of opinions springing up from this movement. First of all, where exactly did it begin?
Tarana Burke is a civil rights activist who started the movement actually about ten years ago. The movement is described on the official website as follows:
“In 2006, Tarana Burke founded the me too. movement to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing. Using the idea of ‘empowerment through empathy,’ the me too. movement was ultimately created to ensure survivors know they’re not alone in their journey… Ultimately, with survivors at the forefront of this movement, we’re aiding the fight to end sexual violence. We want to uplift radical community healing as a social justice issue and are committed to disrupting all systems that allow sexual violence to flourish.”
Speaking ten years ago about the movement she started, Burke says, “As a community, we create a lot of space for fighting and pushing back, but not enough for connecting and healing.”
Fast forward to the present, Burke discusses the trajectory the movement has taken on as it compares to her view of the movement:
“The message is no different now than it was ten or eleven years ago. I definitely want women of color, black women and girls, native women and girls, I want them to know that they are heard, I want them to know that this movement and this work is for them, and I want people to know that if we don’t center the voices of marginalized people, we’re doing the wrong work.
The message of me too is the same message across the board. Sexual violence knows no race, no color, no gender, no class. But the response to sexual violence does. And I don’t want us to get pigeonholed into a racialized or classist or sexist or gendered response to this moment. Because often when it happens, we get left out.”
So, what has been the response? Lately, several female public figures have expressed their opinions and some concerns around the current climate of the movement.
In an interview last week with CNN, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice comments, “I think that the movement to expose these circumstances is a good thing. Let’s clear the air about it. I do think we have to be a little bit careful. Let’s not turn women into snowflakes. Let’s not infantilize women.” Rice has worked in male-dominated professions for the majority of her impressive career.
Perhaps notoriously, an open letter speaking out against “#MeToo” was published in Le Monde with signatures from 100 French women, one being the movie star Catherine Deneuve. To excessively summarize, they critiqued the #MeToo movement and explained why they believed it painted women as helpless victims and was actually a regression in sexual liberation. A rebuttle was published soon after, led by Caroline De Haas, urging that the focus remain on men’s responsibility not to rape or abuse.
Deneuve has since apologized.
Among those facing backlash for their critiques of the movement is Margaret Atwood, and she has gained the label of “Bad Feminist.” Not in the Roxane Gay sense of bad feminist. How did this feminist icon and mind behind The Handmaid’s Tale end up under fire? Atwood asks the same question in her OpEd entitled “Am I a bad feminist?” There are more layers, but focusing specifically on her stance regarding “me too,” Atwood writes:
“Such things are always done in the name of ushering in a better world…Sometimes they are used as an excuse for new forms of oppression. As for vigilante justice – condemnation without a trial – it begins as a response to a lack of justice… so people take things into their own hands…The #MeToo moment is a symptom of a broken legal system. All too frequently, women and other sexual-abuse complainants couldn’t get a fair hearing through institutions…so they used a new tool: the internet…This has been very effective, and has been seen as a massive wake-up call. But what next? The legal system can be fixed, or our society could dispose of it.
If the legal system is bypassed because it is seen as ineffectual, what will take its place? Who will be the new power brokers? It won’t be the Bad Feminists like me. We are acceptable neither to Right nor to Left. In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated. Fiction writers are particularly suspect because they write about human beings, and people are morally ambiguous. The aim of ideology is to eliminate ambiguity.”
Can ambiguity be eliminated across the board in cases of sexual misconduct and violence? Can they be assessed in the same way? Should they be? Much disagreement has resulted from people having conflicting answers to these questions.
In her monologue, Samantha Bee of Full Frontal expresses disappointment that not all of the backlash is from “willfully blind men” and disapprovingly plays clips of jouralist Ashley Banfield’s response to the anonymous article speaking out against Aziz Ansari.
The soundbites of Banfield include, “Let’s take a moment to reflect on what you claim was ‘the worst night of your life’ and “Is that what victimized you to the point of seeking a public conviction and a career-ending sentence against him?” and “You had an unpleasant date. You did not leave. That is on you.”
Admitting the risk of expressing an unpopular opinion, several voices have expressed distaste with the stance taken at the Golden Globes. Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson of the comedy duo Sorry About Last Night host an anti-slut shaming podcast and provide their perspectives.
Corinne says, “it’s ‘#TimesUp’ and you know… at first, I immediately thought cool, I’m glad they’re talking about it, but then I very quickly, as I always recommend everyone does, kinda started to look into it… what I thought, when I turned on the Golden Globes and saw that everybody was wearing black, I was like oh Jesus Christ like everyone does not feel passionately about stopping sexual assault… and I started reading into it, and you’re reading stories about designers getting in fuckin’ fights with other designers to get the top line black outfit… and it just became what Hollywood is so often… And so for me it just immediately felt very fucking contrived. And it’s like… to me, if you want to make a power move– do what Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milenna… they just didn’t show up.
The thing that I kind of tried to remind myself of was that Michelle Williams… she brings Tarana Burke who I think just kinda has not been talked about, you know the me too thing, people acted like it just popped up last year… it’s been around since 2006.”
What are some of the factors causing such divisive differences in opinion? Age? Culture? Politics? Gender?
A study published in The Economist in November 2017 reveals some of these differing opinions around sexual harassment and where the lines seem to be drawn. They found that only about a quarter of Swedish men classified making sexual jokes around women as harassment, versus three-quarters of American men who classified this behavior as harassment. Further, about twenty-five percent of French women younger than 30 considered it harassment to ask to go for a drink. Virtually no German or British women expressed the same point of view.
From accusations of Harvey Weinstein, to Kevin Spacey, to Louis CK, to Aziz Ansari, to instances of violence happening between non-famous people every day, people are certainly talking. It’s up to you as the consumer of such information to form your own opinion.
In this world of soundbites and access to news stories at lightning speed, it can be hard to keep up. What might be the most important thing is to keep asking questions. This is undoubtedly an important issue, to say the least. It is exciting and empowering to see movements gaining traction. The prominent women who have spoken critically of “me too” and received backlash share a similar thread of caution. It can be often unproductive and even dangerous when people start to feel afraid of extreme backlash for speaking their mind if it appears to go against what has become the mainstream, popular opinion.
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